Transportation Field Note

Hi there!  I am reporting out from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.  It is sticky hot in the room of my hostel and I can hear crickets, dog barks, and ocean waves rolling outside of my window.  I am taking a break from itching mosquito bites to write to you!  My friend Meghan and I took a bus here from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.  Meghan is visiting me from the United States, and she got here on Saturday. Believe it or not, the day she got here, I rode in three taxi cabs and three buses before we got to our San Jose hotel!

Some people get around by driving their own cars here in Costa Rica, but many don’t own a car.  Instead, they travel by bus, taxi and foot.   This is a good thing, because in cities and large towns like Heredia, if everyone drove her or his own car, the traffic would be terrible!  Taking the bus is better for the environment than taking an individual car, because buses carry many passengers and emit, or put out, less polluting carbon dioxide. Owning a car can be very expensive, and buses and taxis also allow people to get where they need to go faster, without having to buy a car and pay keep it running.

Back home in Santa Fe, I ride my bicycle to work.  Before I came to Heredia, I planned that I would buy a used bike and ride it from my house to school.  It turned out that the traffic is too heavy to ride a bike in downtown Heredia.  A few people do it, but it feels very unsafe to me.  I had to get used to walking and taking the bus.

Many Heredians take the bus between downtown and their home neighborhoods.  When I lived in a neighborhood called Barva, I took the Barva bus, which cost only 190 colones, or about 40 cents.  I still take the Barva bus to go visit my friends there.  At first, navigating the bus system in a new country was totally confusing.  The buses come every twenty minutes or so, but there is no schedule.  I learned that is a good idea to show up to your bus stop fifteen minutes before you have to leave, so that if you have to wait for a while, you still won’t be late.  Sometimes the buses, like the New York subways, are so crowded that you have to stand up, packed in like sardines.  The bus makes sharp turns, so you have to find a good grip on a pole so you don’t go flying and roll down the bus aisle like someone’s lost soda bottle.  Now that I am used to it, I like to ride the bus with my headphones on, or listen to the conversations in Spanish between other customers, and look out the windows.

Transportation in Costa Rica can be extra confusing for newcomers because Costa Rican streets do not have names!  Addresses are based on landmarks, usually well known stores or buildings, and use the four directions of North, South, East, and West to describe how many meters to travel each way.  My address in Barva was, “Barva, from the Musmanni, three hundred meters North, and five hundred meters East, white house on the left.”  The Musmanni was a bakery in my neighborhood.  A city block in Costa Rica is about 100 meters.  When you to walk 500 meters, you walk about five blocks.

Growing up in the country, I rarely used the four directions to navigate, and of course the streets and roads in my hometown had names that everyone knew.  Still, is fun now that I have the hang of it.  It took a while to get the hang of  the Costa Rican style of finding one’s way around, and I definitely got lost a few times.  But now, I really enjoy my walks and bus rides around town, and I am always noticing new things!

How do you get around in your city or town?  How do your friends get around?  Why do you think people travel that way instead of another way?

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